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In honor of the Higgins Boat
How unusual is it to see an American Landing Craft in Rouen’s harbor? To considering this unusual would indicate how fast we forget that the biggest amphibious operation of all times took place in Normandy not so long ago! And it is particularly thanks to the L.C.V.P. (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) that one of the most memorable historical events of the twentieth century could be carried out successfully.
Challenge LCVP- Higgins Boat | Hugues Eliard, president, translated from the French
Duty of remembrance
For Hugues Eliard, son of a French navy officer and an avid student of maritime history, the story began in 1996 on Christmas day when he was hiking in Southern Brittany.  On the trail, he discovered by chance what would become the project of his lifetime: an authentic L.C.V.P. (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel), one of those little American assault barges which were used by thousands in Normandy on June, 6th 1944.  This one became stuck in the mud for more than 20 years in the middle of the Laïta River. A legendary boat almost disappeared todate even though more than 20,000 were built over time in its different versions.

Hugues Eliard started working meticulously to identify the ship’s owner. A few months later, he discovered that the owner was Captain Pierre Guillaume himself, known as Crabe Tambour, a character immortalized by the famous movie of the filmmaker and writer Pierre Schoendoerffer.

After an incredible effort to set the craft afloat, made alone with limited means, Hugues Eliard began to find partnership and see results.  Driven by a true passion, he founded an association of volunteers “CHALLENGE L.C.V.P. – Higgins Boat.” The association now counts more than sixty members, all gathered around a small team of passionate leaders that nothing can stop. The first goal was to restore and set afloat in France at least one of Andrew J. Higgins famous landing craft, later described by Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower himself as "...the man who won the war for us."

Never seen before in Rouen!
For several years, the initiative of Hugues Eliard has been totally  supported by the Grand Port Maritime de Rouen where the barge is now stationed. Many companies are now participating in this technical, historical and cultural project, given the unfailing duty of remembrance, in the US it's the Cantigny First Division Foundation - representing the "Big Red One" - which decides to bring its contribution.  In May 2008, after thousands of hours of hard work, the PA30-4 lighter finally made it back on the water – an event celebrated with great pomp! A few weeks later, during the famous ARMADA of Rouen, the landing craft made a fine impression despite its small size; it was one of the main attractions of the 2008 event. Thousands of visitors were thrilled to discover the famous barge, a true symbol proving that the show was not only about sailing ships. Curiously, the two smallest boats in Rouen were the only ones directly related to Normandy: a Viking dreknor  – which invaded Normandy around 800 a.c. and the Higgins Boat PA30-4 which freed Normandy… 11 centuries later.

Today, with the PA30-4, the association can boast about possessing a true jewel: in all probability, the only one of its kind entirely restored and certified for navigation in Europe.

Operation « Target Omaha! »
There was no need to be a prophet to predict the PA30-4’s success when its presence was officially announced for the Normandy landing’s 65th anniversary. Mission accomplished with the operation “Target Omaha!” organized in 2009: the assault barge attracted a lot of attention.

On Sunday May 31, 2009 at dawn, the Higgins Boat cast off in Rouen, heading down to the Seine and later to sea and rejoining after several stops the famous sites of D Day.  Many people had the chance to discover it in its previous historical environment, near Omaha’s beaches, Gold, Juno or Sword. "Today, when the concept of respect is too often flouted, this project represents our modest contribution to the duty of remembrance. Through this action, we express our gratitude to the thousands of young combatants who came to free our country with the greatest sacrifice".

An event meticulously prepared by the association which was supported by many partners: the US Embassy in France, the Grand Port Maritime of Rouen (Port of Rouen Authority), the Comité du Débarquement (D Day Commemoration Committee), but also Total A.C.S., Allmer, the Syndicat des Pilotes de la Seine (the Seine Pilots Syndicate), the French coastguards, the S.N.S.M. All of them perfectly understood the event special nature putting forward this symbolic copy which has forever marked the Day D.

Precisely sixty five years after D day, the PA30-4 finally arrived at Omaha beach, called “The Bloody”, where about 3,000 American soldiers died on the sixth of June, 1944. At 2.30 p.m., everything was ready for the official ceremony which took place at the military cemetery of Saint Laurent/Coleville, henceforth and forever American land. Several heads of states attended the ceremony together with several thousand guests. 

Apart from national Navy ships that were gathered for the occasion, the PA30-4 was the only ship allowed to navigate that day in the area. It faced the belvedere overhanging the beach, only a few meters away from the shore, today so peaceful. “During the ceremony which lasted for over two hours, under a generous sun and lulled by a fresh north-eastern breeze, we were six on board, together with Olivier, Xavier, Pierre, Vincent and Jean-Pierre, and we were looking at the boat’s flag, fluttering in the wind with its forty-eight stars. On board, nobody talked because we were too emotional, and each one of us was fully conscious of the privilege and honour to be here on such an occasion,” remembers Hugues. “From the sea, the ceremony took obviously another dimension. The place was impressive in its silence, and very restful and majestic. But all around us, on water, in the water, in front of us, behind us, each one of us without any exception, felt intently by our side the ghostly presence of all those who fell here, exactly sixty five years ago. They were all here – foot soldiers but also sailors – present with us, and our thoughts were dedicated to them at this precise moment. This is the true spirit of a project that only represents our modest contribution to the indestructible duty of remembrance that we cherish and which motivates us."

After the ceremony, the helicopter « Marine One » transporting President Obama from the Pointe du Hoc, sailed along the long beach and changed its direction toward the LCVP. It flew over at low altitude to greet us. This was an amazing presidential homage to our honored promise. "These unique moments which each of us had been dreaming of for years will stay forever in our memories,” said Hugues Eliard.

It seems like the PA30-4 and its crew are giving in once again to the appeal of the sea: as from next May, they will be at sea heading to Pointe du Hoc, and to the no less famous Utah Beach.
To be continued...
 
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© B.Tuvée - 2011


© Karreg - 2011

© J.A. Souyris - 2009
© J.A. Souyris - 2009


© J.A. Souyris - 2009
© J.A. Souyris - 2009


© Roc-Roussey / Challenge LCVP
© Roc-Roussey / Challenge LCVP


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